Fry, Cameron, Putin and the IOC – history repeating?

So, that pesky blighter Stephen Fry has gone and caused a ruddy furore. Word has it that the Russian rulers aren’t too fond of people who are, y’know, um, gay. Fry’s beef, so brilliantly scripted in an open letter to David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is with Vladimir Putin and his new laws against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Russians. More specifically, with the 2014 Winter Olympics due to be staged in Sochi, Russia, Fry suggests rather convincingly that these new laws may go against the Olympic ethics, values and moral philosophy, and his call is for an absolute ban on the Sochi Games. His letter goes into great detail, comparing this victimisation to that inflicted on the Jews during the 1936 Berlin Olympics, suggesting a perceived acceptance of Hitler’s policies simply “provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad”.

These new Russian laws, brought in as recently as June this year prescribe heavy fines for anyone providing information about homosexuality to people under the age of 18. This article you yourself are reading, if published in Russia would presumably be against the law, for it discusses homosexuality, gay rights and would perhaps be rated 18+, much like an X-rated movie. Filth, clearly. Evidently the law doesn’t stop there. As Fry so eloquently states “Every time in Russia (and it is constantly) a gay teenager is forced into suicide, a lesbian “correctively” raped, gay men and women beaten to death by neo-Nazi thugs while the Russian police stand idly by, the world is diminished and I for one, weep anew at history repeating itself.”


Now, Putin has stated Russia does not discriminate against LGBT folk, oh, no no… “This is not about imposing any kind of sanctions against homosexuality,” Mr. Putin said, defending the propaganda law at a news conference in June. “This is about protecting children.” He added: “The law does not in any way infringe on the rights of sexual minorities. They are full-fledged members of our society and are not being discriminated against in any way.” So, there are no sanctions, but they are protecting children. From what? The homophobic message couldn’t be any more loud and clear. Taken from a press release on the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom website:

1. Is LGBT discrimination prohibited in Russia?

Yes, it is. The Constitution of the Russian Federation prohibits any form of discrimination in compliance with obligations within UN and European Convention on Human Rights.

Now then, I’d suggest two things are blindingly obvious. Firstly, the answer to that question is bullshit. Secondly, their discriminating laws quite clearly contravene the principles of the Olympic movement. Taken from the Olympic Charter:

Fundamental principles of Olympism – No.6

Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.

…unless of course large amounts of money are involved, in which case the IOC is apparently able turn a rather formidable blind eye to Russia’s ‘gender or otherwise’ discrimination.


The IOC has also responded, when asked if it planned to create a “safe space” of sorts for LGBT and allied athletes, journalists, contractors and other foreigners visiting Russia for the Olympics, officials said “Regarding your suggestions, the IOC has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration.” Indeed, the IOC has confirmed that it will enforce Rule 50 against displays of support for the LGBT community at the games in Sochi.

So, as far as the IOC are concerned, Russia’s new homophobic laws that clearly go against the fundamental principles of Olympism – completely fine. Any athlete who may choose to stand up against these laws, by, I dunno, wearing a Gay Pride rainbow badge or maybe voicing an opinion – not fine at all. Now, all that said there are many countries that have held major sporting events whose own human rights laws may not stand up against close scrutiny. The run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China was marred by a well-documented surge in violations of human rights, free expression and media freedom. The Daily Fail leads the Fry backlash (quel surprise) for him not calling for a ban on all performing arts in Russia, with an unnecessary tirade of “why doesn’t he’s…”. But here he is simply raising awareness about something particularly personal and close to home, being a gay Jew with a family obliterated by Hitler’s anti-Semitism, and well… a supporter of human rights, something that the IOC supposedly champions. The cheek of the man!


How has David Cameron responded? Using Fry’s most notable communication platform, the PM tweeted “I share your deep concern about the abuse of gay people in Russia. However, I believe we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Olympics.” Challenging prejudice by attending? How will that manifest itself, I wonder? Lord Coe’s response was along the same lines and Barrack Obama has joined the debate too, “I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” he told Jay Leno. At the White House, Mr. Obama said he opposed a boycott of the Games, but added, “Nobody is more offended than me by some of the antigay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia.” Oh, well that’s okay then, but as Fry has since asked, if there is to be no ban how will this legislation be challenged, once the Games start? My guess is there will be no political follow-up at all.

Researching this debate has lead me to a number of magazine and newspaper articles. Amongst the vast majority of sensible and morally just debate, has been a still too high proportion of homophobic and narrow-minded twaddle. This type of comment is still scarily common: “I agree with the Olympic Committee. Don’t hate anyone but really tired of people pushing their sex life into everything they do. Haven’t there always been gays in the Olympics? And haven’t they always been treated like everyone else? Why does everything always have to be about homosexuals? If I were a homo I’d be embarrassed by the vanity that struts about in my name.” – ‘A Real Man’. This argument that straight people don’t walk around exclaiming their straightness, so why should gay and lesbians, is all too common. I would suggest LGBT folk, far from ‘exclaiming’ their sexuality, are simply standing up against discrimination and provocation.


Homophobia in 2013 is totally unacceptable, but this debate isn’t about being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, this is about equal human rights and simply having the freedom to be what or who you are, regardless of age and without fear of state sponsored terror. The 2014 Winter Olympics will go ahead in Sochi, Russia, and I’d love to see some form of protest or backlash. A rainbow badge may not have the same visual impact as a clenched fist (Fry has suggested crossed arms on the chest), but the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute – an act of protest by the African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos – regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games, should act as an inspiration for those athletes most affected by this controversy.


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